Edinburgh University's beleaguered Centre for Human Ecology is to re-establish itself on an organic farm in Fife following its effective closure by the university at the end of this session.
A one-day meeting on the centre's future, attended by more than 40 academics and students, insisted that its teaching, research and public outreach must continue despite the university's decision to suspend its MSc course in the coming session, and not to renew the contracts of its remaining two staff.
The CHE will set up a field study centre in Fife, and seek accreditation for its courses, initially from Scottish universities. It is also investigating the feasibility of creating a "free university", and is establishing an academic board, largely made up of senior academics in environmental and social sciences, which could be responsible for accrediting degrees outside the conventional system if institutions are unsupportive.
Start-up costs for a new institution are estimated at between Pounds 50,000-Pounds 120,000. The meeting set up a fundraising group which will start a membership organisation to support the centre's work.
One supporter is Teddy Goldsmith, brother of the billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith and proprietor of The Ecologist magazine. Alastair McIntosh, the CHE's teaching director, said Mr Goldsmith was willing to help raise funds, and perhaps establish a link with a United States institution.
Delegates at the meeting stressed that the breakway CHE must maintain academic credibility, and guard against being seen as a "hippy commune".